The Irresponsible Firing Of Randy Bernard

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This was a weekend to forget. It ended as it started, with Randy Bernard being the main storyline; first on Friday afternoon and then again on Sunday night. In between, I got to endure a Friday night power failure, I saw my Vols go down to defeat (again) and I was dragged to my first Halloween party in eighteen years on Saturday night. Then on Sunday, I was present at probably the worst officiated game I’ve ever seen, as my Titans lost in overtime to the Colts and Andrew Luck (who really impressed me). While still licking my wounds on the way home from the Titans game – Susan saw on Twitter that Randy Bernard had been fired. That topped off the weekend.

There’s not a whole lot more I can say that hasn’t been said on other blogs or on Twitter, but you know I’ll try. I put out a few thoughts on my Twitter account (@Oilpressureblog) last night, so here goes…

First off, in case you were under a rock for the past few days – the Indianapolis Business Journal sent out a tweet on Friday afternoon that threw gasoline on a smoldering fire, when they announced that the INDYCAR CEO had been fired. This came just one day after Autosport had reported that an IndyCar race in Italy was a done deal. They had quotes from the Italian promoter, but nothing from IndyCar. Curt Cavin made calls to IndyCar and they said that no such announcement had been made or was forthcoming. As it turns out, the deal is either close to being done or the Italian promoter used the normally reliable Autosport as a means to try and push the deal through. Either way, Autosport ended up with egg on its face.

Some twenty-four hours later, it was The IBJ’s turn. They reported Bernard’s departure as a done deal. Jenna Fryer, of The Associated Press, contacted Randy Bernard personally. He told her if he was fired, no one had told him. Again, Curt Cavin contacted INDYCAR and he was told there was no change in Bernard’s employment status. What in the name of Edward R. Murrow is going on here? These aren’t basement bloggers trying to gain attention with some type of scoop – these are (or should say “were”) respected journalistic organizations.

Say what you will about mainstream newspapers going the way of the dinosaur. Their days are probably numbered, much to their own fault – but they still do their best to get a story right, even if they don’t get it out there first. When the IBJ story first broke, I immediately went to IndyStar.com to see what they had to say. I saw nothing. My immediate thought was that they sure were slow to the story. As it turned out, they correctly followed protocol – which is becoming a rare thing these days.

I’ve said many times that I am no journalist, I am a fan. Being a blogger has granted me media access at races, where I have met a lot of people that are considered “insiders” of this sport. I’ve actually developed some close relationships over the years with some of them – some so close that when we talk, we often discuss other things besides racing. Over time, I’ve been told a lot of things in confidence that were “off the record”. Many of these items came to pass as newsworthy items, while others turned out to be rumors. Although it was tempting to pass these things along on this site, I didn’t. First of all, I didn’t want to betray the trust of the person who had passed information along to me. Secondly, if certain things turned out to be false – I was going to look pretty foolish and destroy whatever small amount of credibility I have.

It’s a shame that some of these professional journalists cannot exhibit the same restraint. Getting it right seems to have become secondary to getting it out there quickly. Now that the IBJ story has turned out to be true, the IBJ will be puffing their chest because they had it first – regardless that they jumped the gun and reported him already fired. It’s irresponsible journalism, running amok.

Now, was I naïve enough to think that there was nothing to this latest burial of Randy Bernard? Of course not. I suspect that someone within the inner-circle of INDYCAR had the ear of The IBJ. I also suspect that this someone knew exactly what they were doing, by continually allowing information to leak. I suspect that this person hated Randy Bernard so much that they were getting a cheap thrill from watching this water torture of information slowly coming out to cause an agonizing slow death to Randy Bernard’s tenure. I further suspect that I know who this person is, but I can’t be sure. To carelessly throw his or her name out there without being sure is something The IBJ might do.

But on Sunday night, Randy Bernard’s time at IndyCar came to a swift and merciful end, and I can’t figure it out. We fans are owed an explanation. If he was found to be stealing money or trying to do business behind the board’s back, that would be different. But apparently, it’s nothing like that. He just ruffled the wrong feathers somewhere along the way and has paid the price.

As irresponsible as The IBJ acted in jumping the gun – the Board of Directors at Hulman and Company made them look downright prudent. Never before have I witnessed a more classless way of doing business than what transpired over the last couple of weeks. These weren’t the actions of savvy businesspeople. This didn’t resemble a responsible board – it had more of the earmarks of a poorly-run, small-town homeowners association and the pettiness and backstabbing of a local PTA. The way they allowed Randy Bernard to twist in the wind with pathetic non-supportive press releases is downright criminal. The word “irresponsible” keeps running through my head as I type.

Do the wants and needs of a petty few trump everything that this man has done? He worked tirelessly over the past three seasons to lay some type of a foundation that had been eroded away by the previous regime. He brought in new blood to help run this sport. With few exceptions, he greatly improved the caliber of leadership at IndyCar. Randy Bernard tried new things – not all worked, but give him an A for trying something other than methods from the past that had grown very stale.

Most of all, Randy Bernard brought the series back to the fans. That will be his greatest legacy – he made fans feel like we mattered. Not only did he encourage bloggers, he actually read the blogs himself. He interacted with fans on Twitter and Facebook, sometimes to his detriment – and he actually made sure that fans had his e-mail address. When I sat down to interview him in April of 2011, he made sure I had his cell phone number to call him anytime I wished. Did I ever take him up on it? No, but he wanted me to have it. That’s how much he valued us fans.

My fear is that with Randy Bernard on the way out, things will go back to the Iron Curtain days of IndyCar – when fans were considered nothing more than a necessary evil. The previous regime seemed to take the stance that this would be a great series if we didn’t have to deal with all of these fans around here.

I think the IMS board has greatly underestimated Randy Bernard’s popularity with the fans. Yes, his accessibility was a boost to his popularity – but if the board thinks that’s why we appreciated him, they are sadly mistaken. It is the fresh approach he took trying to revive a series that leadership at 16th and Georgetown seemed to think was just fine. I’m a traditionalist that hates change. If I thought changes needed to be made – believe me, they needed to be made.

But the board will hire some local crony to come in and re-establish the status quo. That’s assuming that they don’t sell the series to Tony George and his group. It’s obvious that what the fans want doesn’t matter to this group. They never seem to get it that without those pesky fans, there would be no series. If the IMS board continues shooting themselves in the foot, they may not have many fans left to worry about.

George Phillips

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28 Responses to “The Irresponsible Firing Of Randy Bernard”

  1. My apology to George and others for suggesting recently that there was no real substance to this story. Color me naive. As the days went by I could not believe how the IMS board left Randy twisting in the wind. I can’t imagine anyone with any talent who would want to work for the dysfunctional IMS board. On a lot of levels this is going to be very costly for the series as Roger Penske commented.

    Of course, there are more hands in this mess than just the IMS board. There isn’t enough Lysol in the world to make this smell good.

    Thank you Randy! Count me among the many, many fans who appreciate what you accomplished in the last three years.

  2. Brian from NY Says:

    So, IndyCar dumps on the fans again and they drop the news right as a Massive storm is about to hit the USA. Maybe they thought no one would notice between watching Football and getting ready for Sandy, but IMS and the Board have never shown any regard to the fans of IndyCar. Much like two bit dictators that show disdain to it’s people, the Hulman George Family and it’s cronies have never understood the key element of a successful series and that is it’s fans. Looking down on them via high in Terra Haute, they are insulated from the rabble that they profess to care for. They open their home once a year, much much like the nobility did in times of yore , to show the peasants their largess, but retreat back to their mansion’s afterwards, so as not to be infected by the common man. Out of touch and convinced that the Indy 500 is the only thing that matters, they bristled that Randy had the idea to build a viable series for the common man. The idea that the 500 would only be a part of a greater vision was blasphemy to the zealots. With a long term plan to expand the series past twenty races, Randy needed to be stop before the dream of a successful series that would be bigger in totality then the 500 was achieved. The family doesn’t care about the series, they care about one race. With fans lining up to pay homage to them once a year, what do they care about us.

  3. This just makes me so sick of the Hulman George mismanagement of this sport. Please God I hope they sell it to someone else. Anyone else so long as they have no blood relationship to the current cast of circus clowns.

  4. It’s flabbergasting that the series has the ability to repeatedly shoot itself in the foot like this. Indycar is a great sport. But Indycar is an awful **series** because the management is awful. The races are terrific, the drivers are among the best in the world at both ovals and road/street courses, the events are fantastic (even outside of the crown jewel Indianapolis 500, there’s the celebrated Long Beach event, Wil Buxton waxed eloquently over Sonoma, Baltimore has created a new market, everyone loves the races at Texas… Indycar has got everything going for it but 1. TV viewership and 2. Management.

    And 1. is partially a function of 2.

    It’s ridiculous just how badly managed this series is. It’s time for the Hulman George family to relinquish control of everything.

  5. RB’s work was starting to pay off and I think by the fifth year the results would have been in the plus column in all points. Because of his work the past two years the Indianapolis 500 has enjoyed greater popularity than it has in some while and larger/growing crowds. Jeff Belskus and his crew had very little if NOTHING to do with that. As for the Indianapolis 500, if that is what this is all about then why not make RB the CEO of it and have him return it to it’s glory years. I hate to think what is next.

  6. billytheskink Says:

    I’m just amazed, utterly amazed, by the Hulman-George’s complete ignorance of or complete contempt for anything and anyone outside of their inner circle. Truly appalling.
    I really don’t know what else to say at this point.

  7. shortwhip Says:

    I think I have this nailed dead to rights. Brian Barnhart was the leak to the press. He got his information on what was happening with the emergency board meeting from Tony George and he let the IBJ know. Barnhart has the most to gain from this. No one besides tony George wants the CEO job and Belskus and the Board will eventually settle on someone like Brian as the guy to run this sport, and he will finish driving this series into the ground. He hates Bernard and blamed him for his demotion and has been working behind the scenes against him all season long. He’s been TG’s inside man all along. Bernard f*cked up by not terminating him completely. Now, I’m terrified of what will happen to the new officiating people Bernard got hired the last two years. There is no firewall left to protect these guys now. As the owners slowly manipulate the series leadership and these guys get stonewalled or thrown under the bus. They will leave on their own. Penske came out against this move because he is under fire from Chevy. We will be back to Dallara Honda sooner than later. Sanction fees will be jacked back up on tracks like pocono, Fontana, and MKE. Which will lead to the end of these events. Izod is as good as gone. No one will replace them. Then we will really bleed cash. Street circuits will become nearly all the races, outside of Indy. This whole thing could unravel in 18 months. Mind you, next years losses will make this years 8 million look like chump change. Leader circle cash will be rescinded. Car counts will fall. More sponsorship will leave, tv numbers will get worse. I just don’t see a way out after this. It is truly amateur hour for the Hulmans. All in the name of protecting the cash flow of the George sisters. Little do they know, there will be less of that now that they are finishing off the goose that laid the golden egg.

  8. John Barnes, you very bad man.

  9. I’d like them to say why Bernard was fired and I’d like them to announce who they possibly have in mind to replace him.

    Because if they don’t have a reason or a replacement then they’re bigger idiots than I thought.

  10. Carburetor Says:

    I typically try to think positive about things such as change, but in this case it is pretty hard to imagine this series surviving as much more than at a club-level enthusiast’s hobby series. It is quite obvious the Hulman family is totally self-centered and focused almost exclusively on the 500 event. I’ve stated my theory before that the 500 will likely be an event similar to the singular endurance races each year at Sebring and Le Mans. It will be a one-off event for open wheel cars each year.

    In the world economy of today and tomorrow, with the severe competition for discretionary entertainment dollars, it takes lucid, visionary, talented leadership. I would doubt anyone would say the Indy Car BOD would meet this discription. Cronyism, near-sighted thinking, and unethical business practice would not seem to be the recipe for sustaining the sport of Indy Car. How sad for us fans of such a great sport that we have been at the mercy of such a nepotistic, self-centered group. I guess I’ll take the money I was planning to spend at Texas Motor Speedway and Houston next year and head to Austin for the F1 event.

  11. Bruce Philbrick Says:

    Adjusting the saying the best is yet to come to read the worst may yet to come……………….

    The ownership of the race series has yet to be announced……..

    We have been educated the past copuple of weeks not to trust the credibility of the releases put forth from the ‘Board.’

    This fiasco is far from over……………..

  12. Who in the world would agree to lead this mess after the way Bernard was treated? It would seem that anyone smart enough to run this series would be smart enough to avoid it.

    Actually, only one person I can think of. And I’m not sure how smart he is.

  13. It is interesting and perhaps typical that the IndyCar website has the news about Randy off to the side in sort of a “Oh, by the way, the CEO Randy Bernard has “stepped down” “Stepped down” my Irish backside!

  14. You are almost correct in all you say.. What you have forgotten or perhaps been too nice to state, is the place and the series is now operated by a very disfunctional group. I have been hanging around the Speedway for 50+ years as my grandfather worked for Hulman and Co.

    Once Tony Hulman and Joe Cloutier were gone it became a rudderless ship. The current managment are friends of Tony George. While they will never admit it, RB was a lame duck the first day on the job, unless he was able to walk on water.

    The majority of the owners and the locals act like a group of spoiled children not getting their way. No one with common sense would take that job. When Roger Penske states the board screewed up, I think that tells the entire story.

    it will be interesting to see if they can find someone that has the brains to take the job. That person needs to be a cross between be Bill France and Berine Ecolestone. In other words it wont happen.

  15. All the bloggers are crying boo-hoo. Their boy Ropin Randy is gone. He was the worst hire in the history of sports.

    • Indygrrrrl Says:

      Are you really TG using a pseudonym? And I believe not only the bloggers are crying boo-hoo–they are just the ones who most closely reflect the voices of the fans–because they ARE fans. Bernard was nobody’s boy, but the fans’.

    • billytheskink Says:

      Looking for someone to take that title away from you, Mr. Heitzler?

  16. IndyCar should be sold. However, not to the likes of Tony George. IndyCar needs to be sold to a group of competent business people who will take the fans into consideration. The IMS board, through their action Sunday, has not only embarassed IndyCar but demonstrated how incompetent and political they actually are. Furthermore, they stated in a press release that the decision was “mutual” between IMS and Randy. Please. Anyone who is not dead could see that Randy did not want to resign. In fact, he was moving forward to improve IndyCar which had a solid year in 2012 with greater fan exuberance than in past years. Now all that will be reversed and IndyCar will probably sink back into the mire similar to the years when Tony George was in control. NASCAR has nothing on IndyCar. It’s just that the people in charge of NASCAR are much more competent than than the fools on the IMS board.

  17. Indycar will not be sold to anyone outside the family. That would give an outsider too much leverage with the 500. Anyway–where would all those relatives work? So if it’s sold, it will be to a member of the family. Let’s see–who could that be…?

    And what will the new/old leadership do any differently? New TV contract–nope, not up for several years. (And they negotiated the last loser in the first place.) More ovals? Ovals don’t want them. Scrap the new car and start over on a “newer” new car to be implemented sometime in the future? Owners will love that. Cancel street races? Be a warm-up act for Nationwide races? Put on 2 more fenders and merge with ALMS? Go-kart rides on the infield track at IMS?

    My initial outrage has given way to laughter at the neverending self-abuse of this racing series.

  18. There is a lot wrong with Indy car. Trying to set up a race in Italy is just a prime example. The China race was stupid and if that is why he lost his job, there might be merit to that.

    There are too few ovals and no real excuse for it. Way too many street courses. Too much control by the owners, which led to the demise of CART. If they had fired him for these things, it might have had merit.

    But we all know that this firing is in some way related to Tony George’s resignation from the Board, which is related to his attempt to take over the league with a group of owners. Bernard was fired because the owners are taking over (Tony George or no Tony George). That means the status quo will continue and we will continue down the road of street parades (with their government $$$) and cookie cutter spec cars.

    I cannot imagine anything worse.

  19. Well said George. Its all so, so sad. They just can’t get out of their own way.

  20. Interesting opinions. Good stuff from George as always. I’m in a wait-and-see mode. It really depends on who Randy is replaced with for me. As for Bernard, the guy did a lot of good things, no question, but nobody knows what he was like inside the company, etc. etc. My opinion is we outsiders have about 20% of a complete picture of Bernard’s reign. Too much unknown for me to be freaked out in any direction over this. As I said, who is hired next will tell a fuller story.

    • Dog, if you are in a wait and see mode regarding what went on inside the company you may want to stock up on your favorite coffee. If you give a 20% transparency mark to Randy Bernard’s reign, what mark would you assign to Tony George? Perhaps minus 20%.

  21. The Black Piper Says:

    Prediction – Within 5 years (and possibly sooner) The Indianapolis Motor Speedway will go the way of Riverside, Ontario and many of the great old racing venues and become a real estate development. The third generation of family management has arrived and that is the death of many, if not the majority, of family run companies.

  22. John King Says:

    I don’t see how you can dismiss the IBJ’s reporting of the events, and then say you can’t figure out what happened. It seems obvious to me that the IBJ’s reporting is exactly what happened — the board asked Bernard to resign last Thursday, with the caveat that it wouldn’t be announced for a couple weeks so they could have a media plan in place. When IBJ used its sources and published a story, Bernard and everyone at IndyCar decided to stick to their guns until they could coordinate a response. Which is what they did on Sunday with the “emergency” board meeting. … It is not irresponsible for a professional journalist to use his professional judgement in trusting several well-placed but unnamed sources to report a major, game-changing event on his beat, as long as all sides have a chance to comment. IndyCar did respond, saying “Randy Bernard is not fired. That is the case at the moment and in the future.” Of course, that turned out to be ridiculous. But what did you expect? For the famously tight-lipped IndyCar to say, “Aww, Anthony, you got us. We were trying to keep it on the down low, but yeah, we let Randy go. Hold on a second while I call our executive team and board of directors and just let them know what’s happening, and I’ll patch you in.”

    • Indygrrrrl Says:

      I guess in this age of immediate news, what would we expect? I compare it to reporting the victims of an accident before informing the next of kin. To me that is sort of George’s point, the on again, off again twisting in the wind was pretty unnecessary, just to get the scoop on the story. I know that is the goal of journalism, an maybe it is Poly-Anna-ish of me to hope it could be another way. I liked the man.

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